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50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950—2000
ground field, and so forth. This strategic alliance between scientists and the military counted in the victory, and after the war the nation's leaders recognized the need to maintain a cadre of scientists and engineers trained in oceanography. The initiative for ONR came from the wartime Office of the Coordinator of Research and Development under Admiral J. A. Furer. Columbus Iselin of WHOI and Lieutenant Mary Sears encouraged Roger Revelle, then Director of Scripps, to become involved with the new ONR's Geophysical Branch. The National Science Foundation was founded soon after, in 1950. From the very beginning, marine geology and geophysics was supported by these two agencies.
THE EARLY DAYS OF NSF
The First MG&G Research Supported
In the very first round of awards from the NSF presented in February 1952, MG&G was represented. The Earth Science Program awarded Bob Ginsburg at the University of Miami $4,700 for one year for a project entitled, "Geological Role of Certain Blue-Green Algae." Forty-six years later, Bob Ginsberg is still submitting proposals to NSF.
In 1953, a second research project in MG&G supported Kulp at Lamont for carbon-14 measurements of ocean sediments. In the following year, three more awards were made in MG&G, all again going to Lamont or to the Geology Department at Columbia. In 1955, there were two more new awards, again both going to Lamont, same pattern in 1956: two more new awards to Lamont. Not until 1957 was the Lamont monopoly broken. In that year, there were three more new awards to Lamont, but also one to K.O. Emery, who was at the time at the University of Southern California, for research on the deposition of sediments off southern California. One of the Lamont awards was to Maurice Ewing for "Reduction of Magnetic Data." Typical awards during these first five years included up to about $30,000 in funds and durations of one to three years.
In the postwar era, oceanographers were given extensive freedom to direct the course of their investigations to serve basic science. The Navy recognized that it would not be possible to precisely predict which question it would need the answer to next, and therefore it was essential to have broadly trained problem solvers. Unlike the situation in later years when one might reliably guess the source of support for a particular research project by its topic, in the 1950s and 1960s ONR and NSF were funding similar sorts of research. This strong overlap in research interests between ONR and NSF at first caused me some discomfort. I was concerned as to how I would distinguish, many years later, which of the great discoveries in MG&G should be attributed to the Navy and which to NSF. I soon realized that this was a non-issue. ONR and NSF did not seem to mind if their researchers were not careful about distinguishing who was supporting what, and they were delighted to take credit for jointly funded achievements. In thumbing through Lamont's annual collections of published papers, a common acknowledgement is of the form: "This research was funded by the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation."
For those of us raised by the NSF of the latter quarter of the century, it is easy to envy the funding rate in the early years of NSF. In January 1961, J.D. Fautschy at Scripps issued to all division directors a list of all proposals to NSF that had been submitted in the prior two years. Every one was funded. The average time between submission of the proposal and the awarding of funds was five months. However, Fautschy did not circulate the list for the purpose of marveling at the largess and efficiency of the Foundation. Rather, he was complaining that despite NSF's encouragement of proposals for three to five years duration if "consistent with the nature and complexity of the proposed research," several of the proposals for longer durations had been cut back such that no grant was for more than three years. It is clear that even at that time, we were at the mercy of our peers, regardless of policies NSF might be trying to promote. More than 30 years later, requests for more than three years of funding on a single grant request are still having difficulty in peer review.
Even in its earliest years, funding from the Foundation was not limited to individual research grants. In June 1955, Raymond J. Seeger, then acting Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation, wrote a letter to Walter Munk at Scripps requesting suggestions for facilities that NSF might sponsor that would be relevant to the Earth sciences. The general policy, as articulated by the Divisional Committee for the Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences was:
The NSF should recommend as a national policy the desirability of government support through NSF of large-scale basic scientific facilities when the need is clear, the merit endorsed by panels of experts, and funds are not readily available from other sources. (Letter from R.J. Seeger to W.H. Munk, June 1, 1955)
Astronomical observatories, radioastronomy facilities, computers, accelerators, and reactors were all given as examples of what NSF was looking for, and the committee made it clear that funds for these large-scale projects should not compete under the normal grants program. In his reply to Seeger's letter, written a mere seven days later (coast-to-coast mail service was clearly faster then than now), Munk suggested computer facilities and support for research vessels, the latter being the oceanographer's equivalent of an astronomical observatory. It is hard to imagine what marine geology and geophysics would be like today had NSF not eventually acted on both of Munk' s suggestions.
The Beginning of the MG&G Program
After the MG&G program was established at NSF in the late 1960s, its first program managers (e.g., Bob Wall) came